How to Make the Most of a Conference


I travel for training events and conferences frequently. I used to go with no plan of attack and try to learn, connect with folks, gather information and see the sites in the area. I would always go home disappointed. I felt like I wasn’t able to benefit from the event. I didn’t learn much nor did I get to spend time with the people I wanted (isn’t that half the fun??)

Over the last few months I have been implementing a little different strategy and it has worked really well for the last two times I have traveled. It just took a little tweaking to make all the difference.

How to make the most of a conference.

1. Get there early.
The awesome thing about conferences is they are usually in cool places. While I love Monroe, I also love spending time in bigger cities. I have started getting to conferences a day early…usually in the early afternoon. It doesn’t cost that much extra and I am able to fit in a great meal and a few other things. I generally ask friends who have either lived in the area or I hit up social media for suggestions. Many times you can ask your waiter or bartender where to go and get great ideas off the beaten path.

2. Find a note taking system.
Before you get to the conference, find a note taking system designed for how you digest and store information. If you are a visual person I wouldn’t suggest a crazy outline strategy. Your note taking system needs to work in cooperation with how you store and call back up information.

You need to focus on information dumping at the conference during sessions. Don’t try to seriously organize it while you are taking them down. Grab the large concepts, quotes, images etc. I also try to find a person who takes really detailed outline notes and get a copy from them post conference.

Mark up your notes though. If you know something is awesome, or you will need it in a few weeks, mark it with an asterisk or a different color. I draw boxes around things and give them stars.

Remember-you are just getting the information down and marking what you believe will be important to you!

3. Build relationships during the downtime.
Some people are tempted to prep for the next session or organize their notes. The best times for you to meet other people or check in with friends is during the downtime. If you want to meet someone-this is the perfect time. Make plans for the evening or breakfast the next day. If you meet someone, don’t be afraid to get their social contact info then and there (and friend them).

You might find yourself really connecting with a group of people. Move your stuff over to sit with them. It is always easier to process information with a group and I find the actual learning at these events happens in the unplanned conversations.

Share information with people. If you have a document or a link you think might help, let them know. Get their information so you can stay in contact.

4. Go through your notes a few days after you get home.
Spending a few days away from the information helps. This time away great because it helps you to get back in your context. Look through what you have marked important and what you didn’t mark as important.

Make a few action items for things that need immediate response or processing. Think of what would impact your life.

Fill in the information you might have missed (share your contacts and notes with others and they will freely do the same).

Make a quick index for your master system. I usually jot down some keywords and the page number of my notebook on a note card. This goes in my master idea filing system.

5. Contact People.
Look through the folks you connected with. Send them a quick message thanking them and just touching base. If you offered to share information with someone-this is the perfect time.

This strategy has helped me make the most of events over the last few months and benefit long term from them. I hope these tactics help you as well.

Saturdays in Scripture: Chasing Jesus

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Earlier this week I was reading Luke 18:35-42. It was a familiar pattern. Jesus is traveling, person calls out to Jesus and Jesus starts doing cool stuff.

Luke 18:35-43
New Living Translation (NLT)

 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind beggar was sitting beside the road. When he heard the noise of a crowd going past, he asked what was happening. They told him that Jesus the Nazarene was going by.  So he began shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

 “Be quiet!” the people in front yelled at him.

But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

When Jesus heard him, he stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him. As the man came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord,” he said, “I want to see!”

And Jesus said, “All right, receive your sight! Your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus, praising God. And all who saw it praised God, too.

This is actually just one of several stories of people calling out, pursuing and nearly nagging Jesus.

As I was reading this passage this week I noticed a few things that stuck out. The beggar was calling Jesus by different names; “Son of David” and “the Nazarene”. Both of these struck me as a little out of the ordinary. Not totally odd-but not the usual. I think both of them are recognition tactics and we can find out about what these characters (the crowd and the beggar) think about Jesus because of them.

The crowd is simply identifying Jesus via location. Not something that odd, but when it is held in conjunction of the beggar’s “Son of David” it makes you think a little. I think about motivation, power and who these people believed Jesus to be (and what he could do).

The beggar was persistent. Calling out twice. The tone of Jesus’ response is almost a little aggressive. Jesus noticed this man and his persistence and is responding to it. We read in the previous passage about Jesus making his final journey to Jerusalem, Jericho was simply on the way.

After the healing, the beggar “followed Jesus”. We don’t know for how long. It might just be a statement of intellectual following or it might have been physical.

What is this story is a picture of what we should be doing?

Chasing Jesus.

Calling out by talking about who we believe him to be. Realizing what the crowd around me is recognizing him to be (or most likely not recognizing) and instead engaging and expecting to experience Jesus.

I asked myself these questions after I read the text. I encourage you to as well. Take just a moment to reflect.

1. How am I chasing Jesus?

2, How am I hollering at him over the crowds?

3. Am I willing for Jesus to heal the thing that stops me the most? Am I prepared for that kind of freedom?

Productive Pastor 25: Project Management with Rich Birch


On this episode of The Productive Pastor I interview Rich Birch, of and Liquid Church. Rich is a great pastor, leader and project manager.

The List
Your Not Going Fast Enough:
Do you ever feel like you aren’t working, pastoring or leading as good as you can? Perhaps the problem is your speed.

How to Be an Effective Road Warrior
I work almost exclusively mobile. It’s part of my strategic ministry. What’s rough is learning to work when you are on the road and out of town. In either situation, the blog post gives some great tips.

Tomorrow Tonight: The Importance of Pre-Planning
How do you prepare for tomorrow? Is it when you get to the office? That my friend is a recipe for disaster. I wrote about the same issue earlier this week here


Rich Birch on Project Management

Rich and I talk about project management and what it looks like for church leadership to learn about project management and why it is vital to ministry. Our conversation focuses around 3 questions.

1. What is your organizational sweet spot?

2. What do ministry leaders need to not just understand, but rock project management?

3. How can a leader get their feet wet with project management?

We talked about these books to help people begin to rock project management.

Getting Things Done: David Allen

The Four Hour Work Week: Tim Ferris

The E-Myth: Michael Gerber

Rich also shares about his passion for excellent announcements in worship and offers the Productive Pastor community a great free resource. You can grab it at Check out Rich at and follow him on twitter @richbirch. Make sure to listen to his podcast. It consistently is one of my ministry favorites.

Confession Time

Over the last few weeks you might have missed the Productive Pastor Podcast (at least I hope you did). Last week I shared this email with the folks signed up for the insider list. What I realized is I had lost my motivation, the “why”, of why this podcast matters tremendously to me. As I was contemplating this I read a blog post entitled “How I Went from Mad to Motivated“. The quote that stuck out the most to me was this… “Once I woke up from that false perspective – the perspective that the other stuff was more of a distraction at the time than anything else – I got mad at myself. Then I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to get back on the horse – the right horse. I was motivated.” So I did what I normally do. I made a list. I made a list of why many different things mattered to me. I realized many things I really care about had dropped off the map. So the podcast will be back. In January. With amazing new stuff and a great interview to kick off the new season. In the interim I will be producing some great new additions to the Productive Pastor community.

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The Secret Sauce of Prerequisites and Productivity

prerequisites and productivity
I remember in both College and Seminary trying to register for classes in which I didn’t have the necessary prerequisites. Sometimes I could get them waived, other times I couldn’t. Even though the situations are frustrating, there are reasons for prerequisites. Everything in life is progressive. We learn things and grasp concepts in order to move towards a bigger understanding of something.
They are also part of life emotionally. Imagine if you had to go through adulthood without adolescence. How might that seriously change the decisions you make? The steps we take in life are preparing us to deal with the future.
The most basic definition of a prerequisite is a required prior condition. They are part of education, our daily work life, legal status and civil engineering. We deal with prerequisites daily and if we miss or overlook them, it can train wreck any project.
Prerequisites and productivity go hand in hand.
One of the big missteps in building a to-do list is forgetting the prerequisites.
Let’s talk about what usually happens (at least in my world) when I make a to-do list.
1. I scratch down everything I need to do.
2. I keep the list with me and consistently add to it.
3. I get overwhelmed with my list (check out episode 22: How To Destroy)
4. I check things off from top to bottom.
5. Invariably, I end up missing things or having to put something off because I missed a step.

Remember why prerequisites matter

Prerequisites make sure you know the information, theories and have the abilities to execute a task. Learning to clearly articulate them and plan out your projects or just daily life will not only make things easier-but it will put you ahead of the pack. You will gain time back because you are no longer crawfishing around (Louisiana speak for walking backwards). For some of this it might just mean not making another trip home. Sometimes it might be the difference between something hugely successful or barely put together.

Here is what we should be doing with our to-do list.

1. Write down everything.
Still process your tasks through an inbox or dumping ground system. Use whatever system helps you remember and also organizes tasks together.
2. Start ordering the tasks according to importance.
Just doing this exercise will be huge. You will be blown away how it helps you to concentrate better and be more strategically efficient. In episode 22 of the Productive Pastor I shared about the eisenhower method. It can be extremely helpful in gaining clarity about priority.
3. Start making a list of what has to happen first.
Find your prerequisites. How do all of these steps relate together as part of a larger project? Are there any recurring tasks happening every week? Throw them into a weekly template.
Each evening I sit down to plan out what I need to have done for the next day. I actually start working on this list during the day using the “looking ahead” slot on my day sheet (download it for free here). I work from a mobile office (yay church planting) and I am terrible at forgetting to grab things from the house that I need later in the day. During this time I build out my prerequisites for the next day.
Ordering my tasks helps me make sure I don’t get into a situation where I am not prepared. It’s about working smarter…not harder.
So pull out your phone, open Evernote or get a piece of paper. Write down what you need to accomplish first. Then share below how this exercise helped you.

Productive Pastor 24: Project Management 101


Welcome to Project Management month. This month we are going to focus all of the productive pastor content on project management. I have some great resources and interviews lined up.

The List:

10 Indicators You Have No Margin in Life: Charles Stone
Do you struggle with margin or need a wake-up call? This list of ten helps each of us self-diagnosis where we are on the margin scale.

The 5 Zeros You Should Achieve Every Day To Have Peace Of Mind: Timo Kiander
Many of us are familiar with the concept of inbox zero. In this blog post, Timo takes it a step further and shares what it looks like to really clean off your slate every day.

The Challenge of Setting Multiple Goals at Once (and how to actually do it): Belle Beth Cooper
Do you ever try to start 4 things at the same time. Usually I end up failing miserable when I do this. Here is why that happens and how to fix it.

Two Things Most People Miss The Most That Matter The Most

As we dig into Project Management 101, there are two things we really need to talk about. I strongly feel if anyone can get these two done well (or at least decent), they will have made much more headway than the average person.

1. Pre-Plan
The planning we do at the very first part of the project matters. It helps us define three things; the project, the goals and the timeline. To really do this well, I find it helps to always work through the same set of questions. Here is a great worksheet for you to use. You can download it free here.

The first secret to great project management is focusing on the clarity you will need to drive you throughout the project.

PP003: Project Mangagement Pre-Sheet by Chad Brooks

2. Brainstorm
Where clarity and detail matters in the first step, this is the step to go hog wild. I use post-its or notecards and write down every single thing that comes to mind. This isn’t the place to edit or restrain yourself. Just get down all of the ideas you have. Once you are at a stopping point, you can then use the items you came up with to help build a timeline.

Next Episode
On the next episode I interview Rich Birch, of and the unSeminary podcast. I had a great time talking with him and it will be a great episode to learn from.

User Justin Gottleib (@jtgott) put together a GREAT text expander version of the worksheet I shared above. You can check out his blogpost and download the resource here.

Why I Love Worksheets (and how I design them).

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Why I Love Worksheets (and how I make them)


I live off of worksheets.

They are the single best productivity tool for me. I am a visual processor and organizer. I have used variations of them for the last year, but I became obsessed with them through my friend Bill Streger (Productive Pastor Interview) when he posted a picture of his on instagram feed. I immediately had to find out what it was and went crazy when I realized he made it himself in word.

For the last few years I have been using worksheets for plenty of projects. It started when I was designing 3-4 worship services a week. They served as a visual checklist to make sure all of the necessary elements where not only included, but worked well together. Then it turned into a way for me to systematically read and study scripture. I made one for doing basic level bible study as well.

Then I started my first sermon worksheet, which evolves every few months. I wrote a blog post on it here and share the most recent version.

I have around 15-20 worksheets I can use for many different projects. The latest was a package I put together for the productive pastor email list. You can get that one here as well.

So how do I make worksheets?

The larger question is what do I need to make worksheets for?

If I find myself doing something more than a few times and it either requires a visual layout or linear progression, it usually could benefit from a worksheet.

I start off making some sketches in my notebook and trying things out. This way I can find out what needs to be included, what needs more or less space and what the progression might be. I will do this over the space of 4-5 instances of use (could be daily, weekly or monthly). This refinement stage is one of the most important.

I am working on a S.M.A.R.T goal worksheet. Here is one of my beta versions.

I am working on a S.M.A.R.T goal worksheet. Here is one of my beta versions.

I use Apple Pages for all of my word processing. It has some pretty boss layout options so I settled years ago into a standard “grey box” format.

I will make a few different ones and use them for the same project. That way I can tell how I am using the data across different points. If something doesn’t work out well I mark a big red X through it. After I am done with the project I can look at how the worksheet worked and didn’t work. I then go back into pages and make a final version.

Finally, I print off a big stack. I keep a surplus of blank worksheets in my office. I find this helps them be a much better productivity tool. If you are having to print 1 out at a time it can be a drag.

I hope this encouraged you to think about using worksheets as well as got your creative juices flowing about making your own.

The Power of Self-Examination

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Have you ever had to check yourself out? I remember when I was a kid in Boy Scouts having to do a “tick check” on myself whenever I came back from the woods. It was a very necessary (while it lacked in gracefulness and modesty) part of returning home. I have probably done this hundreds of times and only found 2 or 3.

But I am pretty glad I found those 2-3. And yes, there is an entirely awkward story from early in my marriage about a tick check.

Think of the modern health care industry. All of us are instructed on several self-examinations for different types of cancer. We know it is up to us to take responsibility for our own long term health.

There is a different type of self-examination. St. Ignatius of Loyola is generally considered to be the go-to resource for Christian self-examination. He wrote an entire prayer book on the practice. In many ways, you can sum up what he said with this quote.

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I think self-examination is a practice we all need to take on and it is easier than we think. I want to share with you a little about why it matters and how easy it is to add it into your life.

Let’s talk about the power of self-examination

Self-examination matters because it is one of the ways we get into the critical issues of the heart. It means taking responsibility for “the self”. The Self is the critical part of our hearts where free will and response are worked out. Taming The Self is an act of sanctification. It is the mode (post-justification) where we are willingly giving ourselves up to God, allowing the tough work to be done by the Holy Spirit and creating a transformed heart.

Two things are happening when we take responsibility for The Self.

1. We are taking responsibility for the inward AND outward act of submission to Jesus

2. We are participating in the transforming life of God in the world. Our story then is added to the story of the world.

The easiest way to begin self-examination is asking ourselves tough questions. As a Wesleyan, it’s part of my own DNA. I wrote about this process of tough questions here | Beatles or Stones: Asking Ourselves the Tough Questions |.

Lately I have been asking myself the same question every morning for a couple of weeks. It let’s me really marinate it all in and get honest. It is interesting how my answer gets deeper and deeper every morning. I find myself growing tremendously inside and really changing my outward actions.

Here is my current question.

How have I contributed to the person I am today?

This questions lets me spread things out wide. I can think both positive and negative. I can take personal responsibility for my sinfulness and how I sometimes act out and respond from broken places. I can also look at how the hard work of sanctification has been playing out and recreating me into the image of Christ.

I challenge you to think of the tough questions you need to be asking yourself. It will be worth it. Trust me.

Good Reads quotes tagged self-examination
Ignation Spirituality
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius


Productive Pastor 23: How To Lose a Week (and not lose it all)


Ok listeners. It’s time to get into the big stuff. Not the easy, entry level time management, but the stuff of practitioners and productivity evangelists. This episode is about how to lose a work week and not lose your sanity. From time to time we all have to do it. The very fear of this is probably one of the reasons people in ministry don’t sabbath well. We are scared to be out of town because of all the work we might get behind on.

The List

Life Hacks of the Rich and Famous: Journl
I especially love the idea of rhythm and routine. It helps out tremendously when you are willing to delegate the tiny decisions to the same thing, habit or practice.

The New Habit Challenge: Make a Better To Do List: Rachel Gillett
This is a great blog post. Just making a to do list isn’t enough. Here is how to make the list actually work for you. I really like the idea of knocking out what you absolutely hate-but then building the momentum to get through the day.

How To Lose a Week (and not lose it all)

1. Know what you do.
This is wear a routine of weekly reviews plus a great template practice comes in handy. You can easily look at what you are regularly getting done so you can plan out your attack.

2. What can you NOT do?
Everyone has those tasks they think are absolutely essential. Let’s seriously think how many of those can’t get dropped or put off for the next week.

3. What can YOU not do?
This is a perfect time to start delegating. Try to hand off a task to someone just to see how well it goes. You might be able to teach them something as well as teach yourself something.

4. What can you work ahead on?
Having a production calendar and a preaching calendar are essential. When you know for a few weeks you are going out of town you can slowly work towards creating some time margin.

5. Can you squeeze in a little time while you are gone?
What about an hour in the morning or missing a session of the conference. If you plan to give yourself a brief moment of time you can take care of the absolute essentials or put out any fires.

6. Plan your reentry.
Think about what your first day might look like. Give yourself the space to actually accomplish what absolutely needs to get done that first day back.

Resources Mentioned:
The Four Hour Work Week
The War of Art

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My Biggest Takeaways from New Room 2014

Last week I had a great time at New Room, a conference sponsored by Seedbed and the Wesleyan Covenant Network. I was privileged to work with the team that became Seedbed in seminary, so my opinion and experience is a little biased. The several hundred people in attendance learned from great speakers and spent plenty of time hanging out, eating great meals and learning from each other.


Here are my takeaways from New Room.

They are organized in three categories; Teaching, Social and Movement



Alan and Deb Hirsch: This wonderful couple challenged us all officially and unofficially. They were around hanging out and spending time with folks throughout the week. I had several chances to spend time with them and I think they are the most genuine high profile people in the world of Christianity I keep up with.

Alan and Deb are amazing at communicating high level information and practicality simultaneously. As a theory nerd, I totally jive with them.

Alan told us this statement in his closing session and it energized me more than anything else.

alanDeb also shared 6 crazy good incarnational practices. They were Presence, Proximity, Prevenience, Powerlessness, Passion and Proclamation.  As I am planting a new church, all 6 of these deeply matter.

Ed Stetzer: Ed is a Southern Baptist pastor and researcher. He is known for his work with Lifeway and a few great books. We joked a little about Ed being our token Calvinist at the conference (even though he isn’t).

Ed challenged Wesleyans and especially those in the UMC to get it together. He shared what our missional DNA is and how it is poised to greatly affect the west. One of the things he said which resonated was his emphasis on church planting. Any movement needs 3% replication each year to stay afloat. This means the Louisiana Annual Conference of the UMC needs to start around 15 churches a year.

Joe Dongell: Dr. Dongell was my IBS (not the disease, inductive Bible study) professor in seminary. I was geared up for his presentation and was disappointed at the lack of a whiteboard and his notorious green briefcase. (JK). Dr. Dongell really spread his wings out and offered us something he had been working through with great passion and surprise.

In the way only Dr. Dongell could have, he went through the entirety of Wesley’s works twice and extracted the core importance of Love to Wesleyans. He then reevaluated what Love actually is and challenged us to live in this way.

I also really enjoyed the two group conversations about church planting and the time with Maxie Dunham, Tim Tennent and Billy Abraham.


If you noticed many of my takeways came from day 1, it’s because I had an absolute ball reconnecting with people and meeting new friends. This is the genius of New Room. It is set up for connection and shared learning.

My hosts in The Threshing Floor also had a great time with listeners and recording a live episode with friends. I have never been to an event this large that was also as relational.

Having each attendee’s twitter handle on their nametag was a great idea. I met so many people I have been having conversations with for years. It was a special delight to finally meet a few friends I have become really close with online.


If one word kept coming up, it was movement. But movements are a tricky thing. They have to be organic and owned. Here are a few things I think greatly contributed to the vibe.

Justin Wise, Phil Tallon, Jeremy Steele and Jessica Lagrone all had great presentations with amazing information. But the thing that stuck out to me across all four of their teachings was an excellence in modern communication. They understood how to actually use screens, integrated humor and personality and never distracted.

Mark Swayze, Mark Benjamin and Drew Causey covered the place with great music. We sung. A lot. And it was good. We learned new songs, sang old songs from our tradition and seriously felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. I don’t think I have ever said that about a conference before.

The Environment. JD, Andrew, Andy and their team created a great environment. It was casual, interactive and encouraged conversation. I seriously can’t think of a thing that felt out of place. It was as much an influence as anything taught or sung.

I had a great time at New Room. I hope this is an annual event and I can’t imagine how it could get any better.

Productive Pastor 22: How To Destroy a Massive To-Do List


Have you ever almost shut down from the stress of loosing control of your to-do list? Don’t lie. You have. We all have.

In this episode of The Productive Pastor I share the 5 ways you can destroy a massive to-do list and set yourself up for future productivity success.

The List

1. 1 Big and Three Medium: John Zeratsky
I found this tweet back in July. It caused an interesting discussion as well as got my mind working. I have started doing this the last few weeks. This is a simple life hack.

2. 7 Things You Can Do on Friday to Make Monday Awesome: Kevin Daum
My wife always clears her desk at the end of a workday. On Friday, she even does more. It all goes into making Monday better. Kevin gives 7 great tips for you to integrate into your workweek to make next week better.

3. Achieve Your Goals by Focusing on Critical Activities: Harry Che
What is absolutely critical for you to do today? Most of us can’t answer that question. The secret sauce to hitting goals is to know what you need to do.

to-do list

How To Destroy A Massive To-Do List

1. Collect it.
These thing are sitting in your head and other places taking up emotional energy. Carve out some time and just get everything on paper. I prefer post-it notes and a sharpie. David Allen’s classic Getting Things Done talks about the benefit of the capture process.

2. Get it all in the same place.
Once you have a giant stack of post-it’s, start writing them down. You can do this in a digital document, but I prefer paper (it makes the next step easier). Don’t try to organize just yet.

3. Filter out what can die.
What has been dropped for so long the damage has already been done? What really doesn’t matter? What doesn’t move things forward and might have little to no benefit?

Let them die.

4. Categorize and rank importance.
What items on your list go together? Home, work, school, personal…there will be plenty. You will most likely even have some sub categories. I generally do this first level with a highlighter.

Once you have them grouped, start ranking them by importance. I prefer the Eisenhower Method. Start marking what is important and urgent. Those are your mission critical tasks.

5. What is yours alone and what can be delegated?
Delegation is a skill I am working on (I am currently between horrible and bad). Michael Hyatt’s work on delegation is the best I know of.

Last week my Dad emailed me. He is a great pastor and has been featured on the show before. He gave me advice he first heard from Bill Hybels. He told me “when your stress levels are high, up your solitude and exercise.” Let me tell you how much this has helped me the last few weeks!

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